Is that so?
The CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises has wagered that the cruise line’s new coronavirus protocol will make sailing "safer than a walk down Main Street" when cruising resumes at an undetermined date amid the global pandemic.
Chairman and CEO Richard Fain was optimistic during a fourth-quarter earnings call on Monday, according to a transcript from The Motley Fool. Though Royal Caribbean’s fleet is floating idle due to the suspension of global operations, Fain said administrators are hard at work behind the scenes to establish protocol for a safe and healthy return to cruising.
Royal Caribbean has suspended most of its global operations through April.
Guided by the Healthy Sail Panel, headed by former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who was also the Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, Fain said the cruise line is doing all it can to make sailing as safe as possible.
"We've taken their 74 recommendations for a healthy return to service as the basis for over 2,000 separate protocols, from passenger testing before sailing to physical distancing on board, the disembarkation of COVID symptomatic persons," he explained. "All of these things will give our guests, our crew, and the destinations the confidence that the environment on the Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Silversea, or TUI ship is safer than a walk down Main Street."
The panel’s work is hardly over, he added, alluding to continued conversations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the coronavirus vaccine continues to be distributed.
"Now, after 11 months of pandemic, I think we all know that COVID fatigue is real. People are clamoring for the opportunity to have experience outside their house," Fain said, later describing the vaccine as the "ultimate weapon" in the fight against the viral disease.
Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley also revealed that the cruise line is awaiting further technical guidance from the CDC "any day soon." Like its competitors, the cruise line is waiting to launch test sailings to assess its ability to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, trials necessary to resume operations in the U.S. under the Framework for Conditional Sailing.
"It’s an inter-governmental process between several agencies within the government that are reviewing the technical specifications. But they've assured us that as soon as all of these things come together, they want to get us back into operation," Bayley told investors. "So, we're just literally waiting."
To date, over 250,000 people have volunteered to step up and serve as passengers for these mock voyages, Bayley said.
"I think to our previous comments, I think our level of optimism is increasing as we see the infection rate declining so dramatically in the U.S.," he added.
Executives were also pleased to report a 30% increase in new bookings since the start of the New Year, as compared with November and December of 2020.
However, it’s not quite time to smash a bottle of champagne against a new ship just yet. Royal Caribbean reported a net loss of $1.37 billion for the fourth quarter of 2020, bumping its annual loss up to $5.8 billion for last year, Reuters reports.